This is the last ruler of the Dynasty 0 and he was also acknowledged by later first dynasty Kings as the first King of their 'dynasty'
He must be recognized as one of the human prime-movers of the definitive unification of Egypt. Among the best known iconographic sources dated to his reign there are the Palette and the Macehead from the 'Main Deposit' at Hierakonpolis together with some statuettes and several serekh on vessels or sherds from a lot of sites in Upper and Lower Egypt as well as from the western and eastern egyptian deserts and the Canaanite area (Southern Levant, esp. Palestine). Palettes are key-artifacts for data concerning the late predynastic period: Narmer Palette, found in the Temple of Horus of Nekhen by Quibell and Green in 1899, is a plain object, with relief decoration, on which various sets of scenes are shown , more or less directly related to the King. Monsters or fantastic animals, symbols of some kingly attribute, and representations that exhalt the sovereign power, action and, possibly, semi-divinity, are the main motifs (through the conquest of territories and the punishment of Northern rebels). These palettes had a commemorative function; cruder palettes are known from the most ancient predynastic cultures as a tool used to powder the kohl (an eye-protective pigment) and, apart from pottery, one of the most frequently found gravegoods in the predynastic tombs.

Narmer's labels
Narmer's Inscriptions on Stone Vessels (85 Kb)
More inscriptions
Narmer Palette from Hierakonpolis
It has been longly debated about the true identity of the King called, since the New Kingdom onwards, Menes; Menes was credited by the late period sources as the Unificator of Upper and Lower Egypt; and the Narmer palette was interpreted as the proof of the Unification by this ruler, after a military victory against the Delta peoples.
On the other hand some labels from the reign of Aha, first of all that from the Neithotep Mastaba at Naqada, seemed to link the Nebti name (?) MEN to the name of Horus Aha (V. Vikentiev, in: ASAE 33, 34, 41, 48; contra B. Grdseloff, in: ASAE 44, 279).
Many speculations and hypotheses have been attempted about the possible meaning of "Menes", but we avoid to report them here in length. 'Menes' was perhaps no royal name at all. As it has been attested only since the New Kingdom, it could even have been the result of a misinterpretation of old documents by ramesside scribes or a figure conceived as the conflation of more real sovereigns into one and the same person (cf. Lorton, VA 3, 1987, 33ff.).
The necropolis seal impressions of the First Dynasty, recently found at Abydos in the Umm el Qa'ab tombs of Den and Qa'a (MDAIK 43, 1987, 33ff., 115ff.) alternating the names of the first pharaohs with the epithet Khentiamentyw, an earlier designation of Osiris here probably indicating, al later Osiris did, the dead kings (Rita di Maria pers. comm); these sealings ascertain in an absolute manner that the dynastic succession Narmer, Aha, Djer, Djet, (Merneith), Den, Adjib, Semerkhet, Qaa is right. Noteworthy is the fact that Den's 'King's mother' Merneith is absent on the Qa'a label.
Finally, it's highly interesting that these labels indicate the kings sequence that the rulers themselves officially recognized as legitimate.
The 'Annals' fragments (Palermo, Cairo, London) lack of any reference to the name of Narmer. Indeed we may think that, if the reconstructions achieved by Kaiser, Helck and Barta are right, Narmer's reign couldn't be part of the year-by-year section of the Memphite Annals because the room in the second line to the right hand of the annals had to be entirely devoted to the reign of Aha; hence Narmer name must have been the only reference to this king, placed somewhere at the (left) end of the first line (the one containing the predynastic Lower, Upper and Upper-Lower Egypt Kings' names), in a portion of the slab that has not survived.
This is a further clue to the evident Memphite character of this source, which gives the higher bulk of information only since the first king attested in Memphis (and in the Saqqara necropolis), disregarding or ignoring the reign of the Thinite Narmer, whose residence was perhaps still in Upper Egypt.
We have a good number of later sources: the king lists of Abydos, Karnak and Saqqara, the Turin Canon, Thutmosis' (III) chamber of the ancestors, the citations of Manetho; all these are mere lists, more or less rich, of rulers.
Menes (anachronistically written in a cartouche) is the first name of the Abydos list (Temple of Sethi I) and it's on the II column of the Turin Canon wherein it's attested twice (line 10 and 11): first with human and then with god determinative.
The Greek have also left us a number of information on the Egyptian archaic period: Menes is mentioned by the Ptolemaic priest Manetho , by the geographer Eratostenes (they lived c. 300-200 b.C.) and Herodotus.
By Manetho (as his quoters report) Menes "was assailed by a hyppopothamus and died" after 60-62 years of reign.
Historically speaking this period lenght can't be so far from reality; Narmer must have surely reigned at least 35 years but a higher period is even more probable. Herodotus refers to Meny as the king who reclaimed the Fayyum and the Memphite marshy areas founding the new capital (Men Nefer) in the latter zone after moving the Nile bed, constructing a dyke and draining the fens.
Memphis (Men Nefer, solid and beautiful, was the name of the pyramid of Pepi I) was an ancient stronghold called 'White Walls' (Inbw Hedj), where Ptah was the main god at the head of one of the oldest egyptian cosmogonies.
The temple of Ptah built in the New Kingdom (Hwt Ka Ptah= house of the soul of Ptah) was the source of the name of Egypt, through the greek (Hikupta, Egypt); the ancient egyptians called it 'Kemet' (Black Land).
Memphis, some 28 Km south of Cairo, might have been the center of administration already at the time of Narmer.
The earliest Saqqara elite mastabas date from the reign of his successor, Aha, but various tombs of Helwan are of Narmer' s age, suggesting that the area had been settled some generations before Aha.
Memphis was the ideal location for controlling all the Delta as well as the important trade routes to the Sinai and Canaan; the Libyans (and the western Delta inhabitants) were at hand too; Narmer took 120.000 prisoners and 1.822.000 cattle and goats from this region according to his Hierakonpolis macehead reliefs.
The capital of the first nome of Lower Egypt, "Balance of the Two Lands", was geographically much better positioned than Abydos. Given the importance of the Near East trade relations in the late predynastic phases, it would seem hard to believe that only since Aha's time the capital was moved to Memphis.
The Helwan and Tura necropolis, with their evidences dated to Ka and Narmer, suggest a possible location of the Lower Egypt capital in a southern center next moved, under Aha if not earlier, to the rapidly flourishing Memphite settlement. (For recent surveys of the memphite urban area see D. Jeffreys-A. Tavares, in: MDAIK 50, 1994, 143-173).

Ivory cylinder from Hierakonpolis (Ashmolean Mus. E3915)

It was once uncertain whether to consider Narmer a king of Thinite or rather of Hierakonpolite origins; the contemporary attestations highly favour the former hypothesis; his tomb was built at Abydos although the most important specimens from his reign come from Nekhen -Hierakonpolis- (where they were re-buried centuries after his death). Hierakonpolis was a center of ancient leaders, one of the strongest predynastic regional states.
The circumstances from which the final unification arose can't be known: they might have been ferocious warfares or pacific relations cemented by marriages; but the relevant fact is that several years after these events had happened,the early kings of Egypt still held memory of the ancestral importance of centers as Nwbt (Naqada) and Nekhen (Hierakonpolis) so that they made the temples built therein object of worship and commemoration.
By the same way Abydos, the royal cemetery of the thinite early state, was retained as royal necropolis through all the first dynasty just because of its ancestral importance as birthplace of the archaic ('Dynasty 0') rulers buried in the cemeteries U and B; the nearby Umm el Qaab necropolis was contemporary with the North Saqqara earliest elite mastabas; probabily the own kings resided already in Memphis by that time, but they were buried at Abydos for the outstanding religious value that this center was credited with along the whole first dynasty age, a factor of highest importance for the legitimation of the thinite ruling family.
It can't be known, as we have told, if Scorpion, Ka and Narmer actually fought against the Delta rulers. The scenes on the mentioned artifacts of Narmer could be typical repetitions of apothropaic actions highlighting the king's power in winning the evil forces, with no relation with real foes or events.
Furthermore, although it appears very likely that the 'conquest' of the Delta by the Upper Egypt chiefs had begun generations before Narmer, no evident sign of war-like activities can be inferred by the attestation of Ka and Scorpion in Lower Egypt.
We are inclined to think that the first foundator of Memphis must have been Narmer; but this king was probabily more involved in keeping the trade relations with distant near eastern colonies and in the military control of the boundaries; in turn Aha, less attested abroad, must have devoted his major efforts in the construction/organization of the young northern capital, taking more time in these actions as well as the building and visiting of cult shrines, than in punitive expeditions; this suggests that Narmer's actions against the probable 'rebels' must have been very efficient. 'Menes' could therefore have been a New Kingdom/Greek- culture fusion of two distinct individuals.
Someone has also hypothized two different unifications: the first one by Narmer should have lasted only few years and then it was reattempted with success by Aha; nothing proves this theory and as we've stated, Aha seems to have been a more pacific sovereign (albeit his name meaning 'The Fighter') than Narmer. Aha certainly benefitted of the Narmer's economic developments: the increased size of mastabas built during his reign is a clear evidence of a higher prosperity. Few generations after the foundation of the Northern capital Memphis, in the decentralized south began a process of marked provincialization that lasted up to the Middle Kingdom age if not beyond.
B. Kemp' s model of the provincial temples (1989) has been criticized by D. O'Connor (in 'Followers of Horus' 1992): for the latter scholar the examples which Kemp has considered 'pre-formal' architecture do not represent, in the provincial centers considered (Abydos,Elephantine,Medamud) the principal temple but only secondary and less important shrines. Hence the supposed 'provincialization' of that period had to be less radical than how it appears nowadays by the lack of visible architectural examples apt to deny it.
It seems that, though under the 'wide wing' of the statal control, many centers once flourishing and of central importance began to lose their political authority (Abydos, Hierakonpolis) in the Second and expecially in the Third Dynasty when the baricenter of the state was definitively and more heavily established in Memphis.
Much more alive did remain their religious value as ancient holy places and birthplaces of ancestral rulers.
The most famous artifact of the Unification period is NARMER Palette which evidences the characters of the warrior god-king. Victorious over Delta peoles he wears the Red Crown of Lower Egypt; many discussions have been made about two main arguments concerning Narmer Palette's actual meaning: a sort of chronicle of Egypt Unification, or of a mere retaliation and rebels punishment; the symbolic representation of the king power; the origin of the defeated enemies: Libyans, western Delta inhabitants, eastern Delta rebels, Sinai bedawins, Asiatics. (A year-label found few years ago in the cemetery B at Abydos depicts a similar event with Narmer's serekh defeating a people symbolized by the papyrus plant. Beheaded corpses on the palette may perhaps represent the ritual execution of the battle prisoners; see below).
On the palette of narmer a boat is carved, which leads Horus in progress to Buto (?). Behind Narmer the sandal bearer (who also figures on the other side) and before the king the "vizier" (?) (not the royal wife) is indicated by the title Tjet(y) (surely attested in the full form, Tajty Zab Tjaty, only since the mid or late Second Dynasty -Menka-, written in ink on various inscriptions on stone vessels found in Netjerykhet/Djoser complex, galleries VI-VII).
Below there are two fantastic animals with long necks (the crossing necks form the circular shape for the kohl) probabily representing the two lands of Egypt, kept by cords; and in the lower register a bull (the king) smashes a fortress by his horns.
On the opposite side the king wears the Upper Egypt crown and he is in the standard pose with a mace that's going to hit the prisoners' heads which he takes by the hair with his other hand. The victim is on his knees and is surmounted by an icon of the Delta region which a falcon takes by a leash. Above, two Hathor (or Bat) heads with the serekh and the name between them.
The writing is already phonetic as the names or titles identifying some personages do show; but the most of these scenes must be read through the image symbolism as aztec pictographies: the positions, the relative dimensions and the poses of things and persons all have importance and contribute to explain the meaning of the pictures by clear descriptive sketches or through more or less evident metaphors. The third register of the palette depicts two further dead men, enemies killed by the king. The overall style recalls the King Scorpion macehead.
The long-neck felines, of sumerian and elamite iconography influence, belong to a group of motives that will be completely forgotten as soon as the reign of the following king Aha. A re-elaboration of kingship and religion doctrine(and iconography) was undertaken in the first half of Ist Dynasty.
Narmer macehead seems to depict a post bellic event; no traces of battle in course but the prisoners and the booty of war are shown (cattle in an enclosure) and enumerated. The king sits on a dais, wearing the Lower Egypt crown ; he is surmounted by the Nekhbet goddess vulture and receives a person who has been carried in a repit seat. Standards are brought by four men; the insignia are the same as those on the Narmer palette: two hawks, a canid and a circular figure with a kind of tail (the king's coushion?).
In the tomb of Neithhotep at Naqada an ivory plaque was found bearing the name of Aha in the Serekh and, beside it, in a kind of hut (wrmt), the Nebty name MEN (the gaming table); this name is not written opposite to the other but in the same direction so it could also be a ritual (succession) device showing the two kings as in a little King-list; it can't therefore be sure that the two names belong to the same ruler (Grdseloff in ASAE 44 p. 279,Vikentiev in ASAE 33,34,41,48 and Emery 'Archaic Egypt').
On a wooden seal there's the name Narmer with Men (written men+n).
On the Abydos list appear Meni and Teti as first two sovereigns; the second one is never attested on contemporary sources and it has been recently proposed to see Athotis as an ephemeral successor of Aha (Queen Neithhotep?).
The Turin Canon repeats twice the name "Meni" with a human and then with a divine determinative (on this point, I think hardly a copy error, there's much to think and too little has been said). The name Meni, enclosed in a cartouche, corresponds to the Menes of Manetho, but has equally been rendered as Menoete, Mnesis, Men and Mena(s); nowadays it has no sense to speak of Menes because this name is a New Kingdom introduction, and the cartouche is anachronistic for the first dynasty (it appears in the half second dynasty -Senedj, Neferkaseker, Peribsen- and in the third-Nebka, Huni-, but only later in IVth dynasty it did become usual). (For further and different interpretations of the Name of narmer cfr. Vikentiev J.E.A. 17 p.67-80 : he did propose a reading 'Nar Ba Tchai'; Godron A.S.A.E. 49 p.217-20 advanced 'Mery Nari'; a rare variant is Narmer-tchai).
The name of Narmer, as we have said above, has been found in many sites of the Upper and Lower Egypt Nile valley, as well as in the Delta, in the western and eastern deserts and in Palestine (Arad, Tell Erani): here we have almost uniquely serekhs on vessels or on vessels' fragments.
A bone statuette of a ruler with Upper Egypt crown (Petrie Abydos II p.24 tav. 2,13; Glanville J.E.A. 17 p. 65) has been often ascribed to Narmer; certainly of his is baboon statue (in the Berlin Museum) inscribed with the name of Narmer and that of 'Khnwmhotep' (cfr. MDAIK 50 and R.d.E. 21).
It has been also proposed to date to his reign the three colossi found by Petrie at Koptos (Williams in JARCE 25); this has been done on epigraphic and stylistic grounds: part of an inscription on one of the colossi (almost totally effaced) might be the tail of an hawk above that of the 'Nar' fish. However it seems clear that an eventual inscription of Narmer (which is indeed by no means certain) would have been carved only after a long sequence of superimposed graffiti (which Dreyer interprets as early Dynasty 0 royal names) of early Naqada III date, thus many decades older than Narmer's time.
The tomb of Narmer is the double grave B 17-18 at ABYDOS (Umm el Qaab cemetery B), excavated by Petrie in 1900 and more recently recleared by the German archaeologists' team of DAIK (Kaiser - Dreyer, in: MDAIK 38, 1982 and following reports by Dreyer et al.).

Francesco Raffaele 1999-2000

The findings

For a more recent description of Narmer's reign see the 'Dynasty 0'